The Bombay High Court today asked the Maharashtra government to inform it about the COVID-19 conditions prevailing in Mumbai when restrictions were imposed for the first time on the local train travel for unvaccinated people and their relevance in the current scenario wherein the infection rate was not as high as it used to be.

A Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice MS Karnik said that, at present, the rate of coronavirus infections was not as high as it was in 2020 and 2021.

The Bench asked if the state government still believes that the same restrictions on the local train travel and other modes of public transport in Mumbai are warranted at present.

"You (Maharashtra government) will have to address us on what was the conditions then, when this restriction was first imposed and whether it is justified today?" the High Court said.

The HC was hearing public interest litigation (PIL) that has challenged the Maharashtra government's decision to continue insisting that one must be fully vaccinated to travel in local trains and other modes of public transport in Mumbai.

The PIL, filed by one Firoze Mithiborwala, through advocate Nilesh Ojha challenged a state government circular dated March 1, 2022, which lists out the standard operating procedures and safety measures citizens must follow in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restriction on public transport, including local trains, for the unvaccinated was included in this circular.

Mithiborwala's petition said that such restriction was arbitrary, unconstitutional, and an "indirect attempt" by the Maharashtra government to make vaccination compulsory.

Today, responding to the PIL, the Maharashtra government filed an affidavit in the high court saying that the restrictions were imposed based on the advice of experts.

The state government said that the death rates in the first, second, and third waves of the pandemic had been 2.52 per cent (of the total number of people infected), 1.26 per cent, and 0.19 per cent respectively.

The hospitalisation rate during the three waves was 69.22 per cent, 37.90 per cent, and 5.67 per cent respectively, the affidavit said.

"The conspicuously low rate of hospitalisation and fatality in the third wave may be attributed to the massive vaccination measures undertaken by the union and the state governments," the affidavit said.

The government further submitted that experts had concluded after much research that vaccination provided substantial immunity against coronavirus, and the restrictions on the local train travel for the unvaccinated were aimed at preventing a further spread of infections.

"Considering the peculiar pattern of travel in the local trains, where the number of passengers in each coach is more than three to five times its maximum capacity, there is no possibility of maintaining social distancing," the affidavit read.

"Also, any unvaccinated person who is infected but is asymptomatic or, unaware, is likely to spread the infection to several of his co-passengers," it read.

The state government told HC that so far 8.76 crore people had taken the first dose of the anti-COVID-19 vaccine, 6.87 crore people had taken both doses, and 16.45 lakh booster doses in Maharashtra.

With PTI inputs